If Revolver had been Guy Ritchie’s first film, it might’ve been difficult to explain. However, thanks to Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, a puzzling, convoluted and ultimately zero-sum proposition becomes, at least, a cinch to describe: it’s like those other two movies, only boring and not funny.
I’m sure Ritchie himself would consider that an oversimplification at best, but he’d only be right about the “at best” part. Revolver begins with Jake Green (Ritchie mainstay Jason Statham) getting out of jail and swindling a ton of money away from the gangster who put him there, Macha (Ray Liotta). Macha orders a hit on Jake, who is approached by a couple of loan sharks (Andre Benjamin and Vincent Pastore) who inform him he only has a few days to live, but they can protect him from Macha’s assassins. Through a mysterious line of reasoning I couldn’t quite suss out, these two pieces of information add up to Jake entering into a kind of indentured servitude with the loan sharks.
From there, the plot becomes more complex, as it did in Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, only at half or maybe quarter speed, and instead of deadpan wisecracks, there’s a lot of somber, quasi-philosophical dialogue, some of which echoe back as somber, quasi-philosophical narration. The press notes for the film describe it as a psychological thriller; Ritchie’s understanding of the term “psychological” seems to be rooted in the idea that people, like, have conflicting thoughts, like, inside their head and stuff.
Ritchie shoots everything with his customary slickness, and his style is the only place where a more languorous approach has its advantages; a few sequences are cut together with some the inventiveness of his previous crime pictures, minus the MTV sensibilities. When it goes about the business of a gangster thriller, which is only occasionally, Revolver is somewhat entertaining. But it keeps stuttering through flashbacks to earlier scenes, as if it’s about to reveal a jaw-dropping twist; by the time a twist actually happens, it’s become so obvious and so meaningless that it’s no longer clear if it’s even intended as such.
This combination of the murky and the obvious seems key to Ritchie’s strategy. Over the end credits, we’re treated toward a variety of experts expounding upon the ego, the individual, and chess strategy; in case your mind wasn’t sufficiently blown (or in case the movie wasn’t dull enough on its own), it comes with its own lecture.
Surprisingly, the DVD’s special features do not include PowerPoint presentations. They do, however, provide plenty of evidence that Ritchie was writing and directing towards a theme, rather than characters, story, or entertainment value. The array of interchangeable deleted/extended/alternate scenes contain no sly-but-extraneous dialogue, no interesting character moments cut for time. They just fuss about with different levels of clarity and ambiguity in explaining “the concept” — how much should be revealed, and when.
Most of the behind-the-scenes materials, including an interview with Ritchie and his editor and a feature-length commentary with both of them, use that term — “the concept” — referring the way the film’s themes, such as they are, are shaped into a would-be puzzle story. Ritchie explains that he got the (apparently mind-blowing) idea from a psychiatrist, and spent several years trying to shape it into a narrative; he sounds plainly like a convert. Some have suggested that the movie’s attempt at philosophizing is informed primarily by Kabbalah, the religion shared by Ritchie and his wife Madonna; I don’t know enough about the faith to weigh in, but the use of vague euphemisms like “the concept” seems like an equally good fit for Scientology.
Whatever the inspiration, these ideas seem to have consumed the filmmaker, and his obsession doesn’t appear to be worth the sacrifice. Revolver feels most alive when it’s furthest from conceptualizing; in other words, for about ten minutes of screentime, and even less of the earnest extra features. If this is Ritchie’s idea of substance, I’d trade back for his style any day.